Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald): Fewer than three.

Mr. Straw: No, there were not fewer than three guillotine motions in the 1980s. The number of guillotine

4 Apr 2001 : Column 342

motions is principally a function of the way in which an Opposition behave. There were a large number of guillotine motions in the 1980s, because the then Opposition, of whom I was a Front-Bench member, decided that they were not willing to co-operate in sensible informal understandings about the timetabling of motions. For reasons that I fully understood, although I sometimes vociferously disagreed with them at the time, the Government therefore decided, rightly, that they were entitled to get their business through, and tabled guillotine motions accordingly.

There were far fewer guillotine motions in the latter part of the 1992 to 1997 Parliament, because by that stage, after 15, 16 or 17 years in opposition, the Labour party had learned a lesson--that it made a great deal more sense to spend time debating the heart of a Bill, agreeing sensible timetables, ensuring that they could be delivered by effective internal party discipline, and then getting out to campaign.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) rose--

Mr. Straw: I shall give way in a moment.

That strategy was far more impressive. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) shakes his head, but if he studies the facts, he will see that to have been the case. He will also see that, at greater length than I propose to do so today, I have offered gratuitous but, I hope, welcome advice to the Opposition in their current predicament. It would be against my interests for them to accept that advice, but it is available to them.

Mr. Forth rose--

Mr. Straw: I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman in a moment. I always do.

Two of the guillotine motions during our time in opposition were ones with which we agreed. Those included the Prevention of Terrorism (Additional Powers) Act 1996, which passed through all its stages during Easter 1996.

Mr. Forth: Does the Home Secretary's research tell him how many guillotines were introduced during the glorious period of Conservative Government to ensure that Bills passed through all their stages within one hour? Does he not recognise that the Government's introduction of such a requirement is not only extraordinary and exceptional, but is an insult to our parliamentary process? What is the precedent for their actions?

Mr. Straw: I could while away the time, but I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the precedent that was set only a few days ago in the other place, where, without timetabling, every single stage of the Bill's consideration was completed in 24 minutes. That was achieved because the Bill was agreed in terms by the three main parties and because the Government had introduced it at their request. If the Opposition in this House were capable of even a modicum of the discipline that is possible in the other place, a guillotine motion would not be needed. The right hon. Gentleman wears a badge of honour. His party is so deeply divided that it is absolutely impossible for its leader or Whips ever to gain the agreement of their Back Benchers, and he knows it, as he

4 Apr 2001 : Column 343

is one of the rebels. Indeed, he is one of the many Opposition Back Benchers who hold their Front-Bench colleagues in almost utter and undisguised contempt, and who will lose almost no opportunity to embarrass them.

Miss Widdecombe: After that long diatribe, will the Home Secretary please answer the question that was asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth)? When have any Government taken a Bill through Second Reading, Committee, Report and Third Reading in 60 minutes flat?

Mr. Straw: I have just answered the right hon. Lady's question by referring to the other place, which recognised that the Bill was agreed on. It is widely known that the other place usually takes rather longer to complete such deliberations, as it has no guillotine arrangements. However, as it was understood that the Bill had been agreed on because it sought to remedy--

Mr. Forth: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you confirm that, in your wisdom, you have selected two amendments for discussion in relation to this Bill whose consideration will be limited to one hour? As the Home Secretary is seeking to misinform us, it would be helpful to know that that is the case and that the amendments are relevant.

Mr. Speaker: The amendments to which the right hon. Gentleman refers will be considered in Committee. I did not select them for consideration; they were selected by the Chairman of Ways and Means.

Mr. Straw: Let me deal with the reasons for introducing the Bill, after which--[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) is bad tempered today--very bad tempered indeed.

Mr. Straw: The right hon. Lady is bad tempered every day, Mr. Speaker, but we all get used to it. It is a bit like the weather. Life would not be the same without her sedentary mutterings, for which we have come to show so much affection.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim): The Home Secretary said that the Bill was passed in the other place by agreement, but I understand that there was opposition. The speeches made by the former leader of the Ulster Unionist party could not in any way be said to have commended the Bill. In this House, can smaller parties from Northern Ireland now take it that we are not considered at all? We did not receive the Elections Bill in good time, and we have received apologies for that, which we have accepted. How is three-way agreement achieved when the main part of that Bill, which we will discuss today, is to do with Northern Ireland? Surely representatives from Northern Ireland should have been properly consulted and given time for proper debate.

Mr. Straw: With respect, I was talking about the second Bill, the Election Publications Bill, because I had been led on to that subject. I shall return later to the main

4 Apr 2001 : Column 344

Bill before the House, to which more time has been allocated, although I accept that the time is limited. In that Bill, by far the greatest number of words is related to Northern Ireland, and of course I will take any interventions from the hon. Gentleman in respect of that.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw: If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to proceed on the Election Publications Bill, I will take an intervention later.

The publications Bill is a short, three-clause Bill that has been introduced following representations from all three main parties. All parties have many thousands of prospective candidates throughout the country and are likely to be in the same difficulty regarding the new imprint requirements, and we need to regularise the position as soon as possible. The fact that local elections are to be postponed for five weeks does not alter the need to proceed expeditiously. I have already explained that last week the other place took 23 minutes to give the Bill a Second Reading, and the remaining stages were taken in two minutes flat.

I want to deal with the suggestion made last week by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), the shadow Leader of the House, and now by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald, that the need for the Bill has arisen because of flawed drafting in the original Bill. That is not the case. The original Bill was the subject of considerable discussion by the parties. There was then further consultation with the parties about the commencement order, which could have made effectively the same provisions as this Bill: a phased introduction of the new sections and the continuation for a period of the existing section 110 of the Representation of the People Act 1983. I consulted all the parties, and none of them noticed--neither did I, but I am in good company--that the consequence of the commencement order was to place every potential candidate in a situation where any material that had been printed but not formally published in advance of the new sections coming into force could technically have put them, their agents and, possibly, their printers at risk of criminal proceedings. Obviously, that was unacceptable.

Discussions rapidly took place between the parties in a different atmosphere from the one that the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton has tried to generate. We agreed not that the new Bill would repeal those words but that it would provide for them to be phased in in a different way and that the original section 110 would be deemed to have taken effect. [Interruption.] It has to be deemed so to be enforced. It is not the first time that such words have been used in amending the law and it will not be the last. We reinstated section 110 and suspended the operation of the new Act and there will be further consultation about bringing the provisions into force after the forthcoming elections.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): Before the beginning of the Second Reading of the publications Bill, will the Home Secretary place in the Library the documentation appertaining to the consultation that he says he carried out? I am aware that on 4 November 1999, a senior Home Office official

4 Apr 2001 : Column 345

consulted about matters to do with the hiring of hackney carriages, committee rooms and planned changes to election law petitions, but there was no mention of the imprint in that consultation. On 17 January 2000, the same official wrote to 100 registered parties to say that the Home Office

No such progress has been the subject of consultation with any political party.

Next Section

IndexHome Page